As winter begins to subside in many states across America, spring brings about long-awaited warm weather, outdoor activities, and a break from the dreary winter months. However, rising temperatures bring about one of the most notorious markers of spring: seasonal allergies. Cars everywhere begin to don an unmistakable yellow hue. Eyes start to itch, noses start to run, and the novelty of springtime is soon ruined for millions.
Allergy season can be extremely tough for the more than 50 million Americans that experience some type of seasonal allergy each year, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Yet, for people who suffer from chronic pain or illness, allergy season can prove to be an even bigger challenge.
What are seasonal allergies?
Seasonal allergies are most commonly caused by pollen, a powdery substance consisting of pollen grains used to fertilize plants of the same species. Pollen is typically released by trees, grasses, and weeds anywhere from spring into summer and late fall respectively. The light, dry substance is released by the plants and carried by the wind, which makes it almost impossible to avoid; some pine pollen has reportedly traveled up to 1800 miles away from its source tree.
For most, the culprit of their seasonal allergies is grasses and weeds. Thought to be the most common type of allergen across the United States is a weed species named ragweed, which flowers in late August to early September. While ragweed only lives for one single season out of the year, its ability to release over one billion pollen grains, some of which have been reported to travel over 400 miles, proves it to be a fierce allergen.
When is allergy season?
Allergy season can range anywhere from early spring (February to March), to late fall (September to October). The type of pollen being released into the air differs with the seasons, which can be a very important tidbit of knowledge for those who know which type of pollen they are sensitive to. Three major groups of allergens can be attributed to seasonal allergies: trees, grasses, and weeds, each of which peaks at different times of the year.
- Trees are among the first to release their pollen each year, starting as early as February, with a peak in pollen counts around April and May. Some of the most common tree pollen allergies are to trees such as birch, ash, cedar, elm, and oak.
- Grasses tend to begin their pollination in early spring (March or April typically), and often coincide their peak pollen counts, unfortunately for many, with that of trees, and often carry those high levels into June and July. Popular grass allergens are johnsongrass, ryegrass, orchard grass, and bermudagrass to name a few.
- Unfortunately, weeds tend to start their pollination just as grass pollen levels begin to subside. Around the peak of summer, July and August, weed pollen levels begin to rise drastically, and by September they are at their highest. Other weed allergens that prove troublesome for many are pigweed, tumbleweed, and sagebrush.
How do allergies affect people with chronic pain?
The link between allergies and chronic pain or illness is often overlooked. It’s easy to dismiss the two as being related, but they go more hand in hand than many may understand. Allergies are a direct result of the immune system’s accidental response to foreign bodies like pollen that are otherwise harmless. When the immune system combats these allergens, it releases antibodies into the bloodstream, which in turn produces the symptoms of an allergic reaction. For those who suffer from chronic pain or illness, allergies can prove to be challenging, as many of the symptoms are easily confused for one another. Understanding how seasonal allergies can affect chronic pain and illness can be a useful tool in combating allergy season and alleviating unwanted added stress on one’s body.
For those who may suffer from chronic pain related to rheumatoid arthritis or other muscle or joint pain, immune responses to allergies can add unwanted stress to an already strained immune system. Some of the most common symptoms of seasonal allergies are inflammation and joint pain. This “doubling down” of inflammation can often make symptoms feel worse than they otherwise would be, making it hard to determine the root cause.
Seasonal allergies also bring with them the addition of symptoms such as coughing and sneezing. These symptoms, whilst easy to attribute to allergies, are extremely challenging for those with chronic pain in their back, neck, and spine. Coughing and sneezing produce violent, quick movements in both the neck and back, which for many may already be a cause of debilitating pain. Coughing can also add to this pain, and in some cases cause it. People with recent injuries to their back, neck, or spine, are at an increased risk of injuries such as herniated disks and muscle strain, which can be triggered by the sudden, abrupt movement of the back.
The added fatigue that can come with seasonal allergies can also be troublesome for those with chronic pain or illness. Symptoms of fibromyalgia can include chronic fatigue and tiredness, the inability to sleep, headaches and migraines, and problems with memory and concentration. All of these symptoms can be worsened with the addition of seasonal allergies, which can cause all of the above symptoms. The addition of any added symptom or ailment can be difficult to overcome for many, especially when one can suffer from more than one type of pollen allergy, which can lead to months of suffering.
What can you do?
While avoiding seasonal allergies can seem impossible, in many cases avoiding any kind of pollen would mean simply staying indoors for months at a time. Still, there are steps one can take to enjoy the outdoors and avoid serious allergic reactions.
- Shower After Being Outdoors: This may seem obvious to many, but showering immediately after being outdoors can greatly reduce the amount of pollen that is not only on the body but also in the home. It is also important to wash the clothes that have been outdoors immediately after returning and to refrain from wearing them again until they have been washed.
- Regularly Change Air Filters in Home: One of the most effective ways to prevent pollen from entering the house is to change air filters frequently. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that households use a HEPA filter (high-efficiency particulate air) when choosing an air filter replacement. These air filters can prevent 99.97% of all dust, pollen, mold, bacteria, and airborne particles and should be changed with regards to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Wash Bedding at Least Once a Week: While showering, washing clothes, and changing air filters can all help reduce pollen in the house, some pollen, especially from plants with stickier pollen like that of the dandelion or other insect-pollinated plants and flowers, can stick to the body and make their way past all of these defenses. Washing bed sheets at least once a week can be a great way to reduce stubborn pollen in the house.
- Consult an Allergist: It’s important to understand one’s body and its sensitivity to pollen. Consulting an allergy specialist can be an effective way to combat seasonal allergies, as it can give individuals insight into what specifically is the cause of their allergies. Allergists are typically a good solution for those who may suffer from more severe, recurring seasonal allergies.
- Understand Pollen Levels: Finally, it is important to understand that there may be some days in which outdoor activities may not be a reasonable undertaking. Monitor pollen levels in the local area and plan accordingly. Along with local news stations and online sites, there are numerous phone apps dedicated to monitoring pollen levels that will give real-time data in a specific area. On days where pollen levels are forecasted to be high, avoid outdoor activities to reduce the risk of an allergic reaction.
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